Strip shell game!

It’s hard to believe, but one of the oldest gambling con games is alive and well in the shadow of the Las Vegas Strip. I snapped some pictures of a shell game in action on Monday between the Tropicana and Hooters. Technically that’s not the Strip, but it’s in the Strip tourist corridor, so the headline is accurate. Click through to see indisputable photographic evidence and some homespun analysis.

Strip shell game
In the shell game, the thrower shows you three shells (in this case, 7-Up bottle caps) and asks you to pick the one hiding the ball or pea. Usually he lets you or a shill win one, then you lose big.

It’s a very, very old variation on three-card monte.

When I got closer to take an up-close picture, the thrower turned and verbally expressed his displeasure at having his picture taken. Still, I snapped another one:
strip shell game
I’m dumbfounded that people were actually playing this game. The only possible explanation is that those kids aren’t 21 yet. You’ve got to love those looks of rapt fascination–almost adoration–on the suckers’ faces. A few older guys drifted away with me as I passed by and encouraged me to take pictures of them. They even told me that they thought the thrower might be moving the ball with his little finger or doing something else shady. You think?

In a city with more than 100,000 gaming positions regulated by the state and certified to be honest (though negative expectation), why you’d want to gamble with a guy in the street is beyond my comprehension. I guess he gets some business though, because he’s out there.

It looks like I’ve got another warning to tack onto my usual spiel about Vegas safety–always pull your room door completely shut when leaving, never leave your drink unattended, and don’t gamble with guys in the street.

In other news, as soon as I finish a backlog of work that I actually get paid to do, I’ll be whipping out the 2008 edition of Winslow’s Eleven and posting a major casino carpet update, including the creation of a brand new page: the casino carpet crypt, where all the retired carpets will be posted. I’ve got to say that Luxor’s new carpet is not nearly as festive as you’d expect.

Finally, the Reading Room at Mandalay Bay is thriving, and will be open at least until the end of June and possibly until the end of December. So next time you’re in town, make a point of supporting an independent bookstore in a casino and buy something. There’s lots of good gambling-related books for sale there, including many that I’ve reviewed favorably. Alas, you’ll have go somewhere else for your copy of Zeropolis.

Author: Dave

Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of several books, including Roll the Bones: The History of Gaming. Also Gaming and Hospitality editor for Vegas Seven magazine.